Are You A Collector?

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Collections are the outward manifestation of a deeply-felt principle or emotion, and are quite different than ordinary garden-variety "clutter." One man has a love of photography and takes pictures of everything. Another woman buys more shoes than she could ever wear, to make up for having hand-me-downs as a child. Someone else might keep all of her mother's old clothes and papers after her death. Whether we love hats, unicorns, or butter tubs that we "might use someday," collecting makes us feel good -- it fulfills some NEED in our lives. What do you love to collect?

However, as much as we love our keepsakes and mementos, any collection can become overwhelming if it isn't kept in check. One of my clients actually considered building on an extra room to house dozens of antique cups -- until she realized it was a choice between the renovation and her son's college tuition! Another client spent hundreds of dollars a month on storage units, because she couldn't bear to part with any of her children's clothes or toys. The trick is to establish a set of RULES for sorting, storing, and purging your mementos. Even if you aren't buried in memorabilia, it's important that you properly store and protect your keepsakes -- after all, your treasured memories deserve some respect!


You may decide to establish a physical limit for your belongings. Perhaps you tell yourself that you will keep no more than 10 ceramic frogs, setting numerical limit. Or, you could determine an acceptable spatial limit -- I won't buy any more shoes than will fit on this shelf. Finally, you might decide that you work better with an in / out ratio -- you get rid of one magazine every time you bring a new one home. Either way, you are creating a very specific method for keeping your belongings in check. You never need worry about losing control again!


Collecting, like everything in life, should be about quality -- not just quantity. Resist the urge to own every colored glass bottle on the planet -- be DISCERNING about your "favorites." Perhaps you can select a few representative samples of your collection, display them beautifully, and discard the rest. Take some time to examine your treasures, asking yourself which ones really mean something to you. You may find that a once beloved collection has lost its appeal. Take picture or shoot a video tape of your collection for posterity -- then you will feel more free to let go of the past without completely discarding years of memories.


The first rule for protecting your memorabilia is to select a space that is accessible, but not part of your active storage. If you clearly separate mementos from those items you use regularly, they are less likely to get damaged or lost. You may use any kind of container, but one with a lid will keep out dust. I happen to prefer a cedar chest, because it insures that no creepy-crawlies will decide to munch on my keepsakes. Insect infestation is a particularly important concern if you are keeping old clothing or dried flowers. You may want to have that baby blanket or wedding gown professionally cleaned and sealed before you store it away.

And be very careful about storing treasures in your garage, attic, basement. Never store anything in an unprotected area if it might be damaged by moisture or extremes in temperature -- if it might melt, freeze, warp, fade, or crack. Finally, be careful about the kind of packaging you use -- acid-free tissue paper is a better choice than packing peanuts, which can melt over time.


Going through years of backlogged pictures and putting them in order can either be a nightmare or a fun trip down memory lane -- depending on how you approach it. Before you do anything, go wash your hands. The oils on your fingers can permanently damage your snapshots. And remember that even Ansel Adams threw away the bad pictures. If it's underdeveloped, fuzzy, too bright, or you're making a goofy face, you can toss it. You won't go to hell. While we're at it, let's talk DUPLICATES -- why do you need 6 sets of prints from the company picnic? Keep one and give the rest to the other people in the picture.

The easiest way to begin is to sort your snapshots by date. You can get a general idea of the time period by the film grain (black and white, sepia, full-color) and the paper on which the photo is printed (white edging is older than no edging, textured paper is older than smooth). Other clues can be found within the pictures themselves. Are those hotpants from the 1960's? Perhaps you remember that you took that cruise to Nassau in 1993. You may only be able to remember the occasion -- that must have been a family reunion because there's Aunt Marge! Separate your snapshots into piles according to the time period and the occasion. Then, label each photo on the back with a crayon or special grease pencil -- a sharp pencil or pen will damage the picture. And don't forget to label the negatives, as well.


Once your pictures are in chronological order, you're ready to store them away. Always use ACID-FREE pages, mylar / polypropylene pockets, or an acid free box -- never magnetic pages, which will eventually destroy your snapshots.

You will probably want to put some identifying labels on the pages or box dividers as you go along, so have a pen and some stickers handy. Keep your negatives in the original packaging, labeled in chronological order, in a photo box -- or you may buy special negative sleeves that fit into a ring-binder. And keep in mind that both photographs and negatives are easily damaged by moisture and heat. The attic or basement probably is not the best place for them. You may opt to keep your negatives in a fire safe or safety deposit box, in case your photos are destroyed.

After this point, be sure to keep some extra photo albums and blank pages on hand, and reward yourself for organizing your pictures and negatives as soon as you bring them home.

Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of -- a web-based one-stop shop offering everything that you need to get organized at home or at work. At, you may get a referral to an organizer near you, shop for the latest organizing products, get tons of free tips, and even learn how to become a professional organizer or build your existing organizing business. And if you would like to read more articles about organizing your life or building your business, get a free subscription to the "Get Organized" and "Organized For A Living" newsletters. Please visit or contact Ramona directly at for more information.

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